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Latest Celebration of Sports continues proud legacy

The 12th Annual Celebration of Sports banquet, held at Turf Valley on Oct. 21, was one for the books. Every speech, from the opening comments by John Byrd, Director of Recreation and Parks, to County Executive Ken Ulman, to keynote speaker Al Bumbry and then right through to the six inductees into the Community Sports Hall of Fame were thought provoking.

We all got a special bonus with the attendance of one of the greatest high school basketball coaches of all time, Morgan Wootten, who was the guest of inductee Bernie Dennison. Wootten, 83, was credited by some for having shaped high school basketball and looked absolutely great. Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden said of Wootten, "I know of no finer coach at any level — high school, college or pro."

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Bumbry, who spent 14 years with the Baltimore Orioles and was the first Oriole to garner 200 hits in a season, proved to be as adept at the podium as he was in center field. He talked lovingly of his mother's tough love when he was growing up in a small town in Virginia. According to the man known as the Bumblebee, her tough love in the 50s and 60s would be called something else today.

I also learned that Bumbry began his baseball career hitting just .178 and took time away from baseball to enlist in the United States Army. He went on to serve as a platoon leader in Vietnam and was awarded a Bronze Star. "That's when I grew up; as a platoon leader responsible for the lives of 40 men under me," he said. He returned to baseball a different person and was named AL Rookie of the Year in 1973 after batting .337. He still ranks among the Orioles' all-time leaders in games played, hits, doubles, runs, triples and stolen bases.

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I have heard Ken Ulman speak dozens of times, but his speech that evening was one of his best in my memory. For his dedication to sports and recreation, he was awarded the Leader in Sports Award.

Feet First became the first sponsor to be recognized with an award. The program has been sponsoring running events and using the store, then run by Karen and Jeff Cohen, for runners to register for events for more than 35 years. It also has assisted the Howard County Striders program in many other ways.

Speeches by inductees Shantha Chandra (tennis), Bernie Dennison (HCYP), Allen Fleming (youth sports coach and administrator), Dr. Vernon Gray (First Tee founder), Art McGinnis (community activist) and Marilyn Miceli (Special Olympics) were also great. Those speeches collectively rank among the very best since the program began in 2005.

Twenty one young athletes representing 19 sports organizations received Youth Player of the Year Awards, 12 officials received Official of the Year Awards, and 19 coaches received Coach of the Year honors. Al Hunt received the Adult Player of the Year Award.

A call to athletes

I had planned to complete my column this week with some other sports items, but I changed my mind and want to instead focus on bullying. I am distressed by some of the latest tragedies that have befallen some high schools nationwide. I realize that they were not all caused by bullying, but I suspect it may have played a role in some of the events that have happened over the years.

I also understand the Howard County School System has taken bullying seriously and has developed a clear policy for students, but I still would like to see student athletes step in if they see someone being bullied. The act itself is an important matter, and unless all of us are serious about stopping it in its tracks now, we could find ourselves on the front pages of newspapers and on national television trying to explain what happened.

In May, Ulman announced an anti-bullying initiative that includes a technology-based reporting system so individuals can anonymously report bullying when it happens. I urge people to get a copy of it and read it.

It's that important.

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